Spotting a Bad Employer Before You Apply
Perhaps you are a new entrant to the job market. Maybe you are a college freshman, sophomore, or even a junior, and you are excited to start putting your newfound skills to work. Or possibly, you are either unemployed or are looking to move to a different employer for a new career opportunity. In any of these scenarios, you could fall victim to a predatory employer or a company on the decline due to poor business practices and mismanagement.
Luckily, you can tell these frauds by the way that they attract talent, and by the manner in which they treat their executive roles. Here are the five types of employer that you should run away from once you spot the destructive tendencies.
The Soap Opera
When you see that the owner of the business is romantically involved with another partner/executive, and they often do not see eye to eye, you know there could be trouble. Even worse is when the owner of the business is romantically involved with junior level employees, and has a history of it. The fraternization itself is not the core of the issue with The Soap Opera, it is that someone in power at the employer treats the job like a season of The Bachelor/ The Bachelorette. When the boss is romantically involved with colleagues, it sets up an environment that is prone for office politics and water cooler talk that erodes morale. Even worse, it sets up a workplace that is a hotbed for discrimination and sexual harassment. This type of work environment is not suitable for business in the 21st century, and it’s only a matter of time before the lover’s quarrel bubbles up to the surface and impacts the business. Trust me, you do not want to get caught up in this.
Phrases such as “hostile work environment” end up getting tossed around.
If the job is not for modeling, acting, or a similar job, and the employer asks for a headshot picture with your résumé, run!
The Startup Non-start
What do you get when you have a quirky idea, plus a set of arrogant founders who watched The Social Network and Steve Jobs documentaries too often, and have internalized the selection bias of the “unicorn?” You get the Startup Non-start. This bad employer sees the great wealth and vast resources of Silicon Valley, and they want in. You may notice them refer to their product as “the Facebook of this” or “the Uber or AirBnB of that”, but they have not taken the time and critical thought to prove out their business model, and have now run low on resources. Also known as “tech bros.”
They have neither the discipline, scrappiness, or technical talent to execute on their big ideas. They present their role for you as something exciting, fast-paced, and akin to the Google or Facebook employee/intern experience. They like to drink during work, and always present themselves as eccentric geniuses, but don’t have the common sense to even comment their code to help developers that come behind them.
These are the qualities of the Non-starts:
1. They HATE hiring employees.
2. They do not like to pay contractors what they are worth.
3. They LOVE free labor in exchange for their worthless stock.
4. They put pitch decks ahead of product.
Beware of companies whose product has no true need in the market, which you could not imagine people or companies flocking to use. These companies’ products rarely see the market and almost never turn a profit before they shutter their virtual doors.
The Cardboard Cutout
The Cardboard Cutout employer presents a great picture of the company with all of their promotional material. There are a lot of smiles and handshakes, and the job description looks lovely. However, once you are brought onboard they switch your role in an instant.
For example, The Cardboard Cutout hires you for an exciting role as an Investment Banking Associate (sounds great, doesn’t it?), but then the role turns out as nothing more than answering phone calls and scanning/printing documents for SIPC and FINRA, SEC compliance. What happens with the Cardboard Cutout, is that the success and presentation that is displayed when you apply for the job, disintegrates when you learn more about the compensation and job role — because the company is really not as profitable, large, or branded as they communicated. The veneer is fake; they lied to you to access your talent. Beware of the Cardboard Cutout; they may have started out as a decent company, but poor management “did them in.”
The Dinosaur is pretty self-explanatory. It is an old, small or medium-sized business that operates the same way as it did 20 years ago or more. It operates exclusively with brick and mortar presence, and if there is an internet presence, it is not used effectively and is rudimentary.
The technology is out of date, which some of the requirements in the job description reflect. Here are some of the more laughable requirements I’ve stumbled across in the last few years (these are all real, I am not making this up!):
- Must be proficient in Lotus Notes
- 30 GWAM typing speed or higher
- Impeccable skills Microsoft Works
- Expert level MS Access Database administration
- Must be comfortable with wearing uniform
- Pretty smile to greet customers is a plus!
A lot of times, the company is so small that the owners inject some of their personal values into the day-to-day operation of the business. When this includes imposing religious values, preferential treatment to the owners’ families, rejecting new technology out of fear, and/or reinforcing negative gender and ethnic stereotypes. This type of environment is not the place for an aspirational employee to work. Hop off this sinking ship before they convert you to their slow-moving, unambitious business model. Merely having their name on your résumé is going to put a dent on your personal brand.
This is the bad employer type that disgusts me the most. These companies prey on young professionals and college students, and their desire to get ahead and gain experience. The young professionals see the important transaction as giving labor in exchange for experience, because they have been brainwashed to think that the workforce outlook is really that grim, and that free labor is their only option to improve their resumes. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this is not the American way. According to the NACE 2013 Student Survey, 37% of students who held unpaid internships received full-time offers, compared to 63.1% for students who held paid internships. The implication here is that the unpaid internship rate of receiving full-time offers is about the same as if you did not hold an internship at all. The Intern Scammers want to drain you of your talent, and avoid paying payroll taxes and wages. If you do not believe me, consult the U.S. Department of Labor which defines the requirements for a legitimate unpaid internship. Here are some key hints to let you know that your internship program may be phony:
- There is no compensation for anything — not a stipend, not paid lunch, not validated parking and travel, nothing. There is no true offer, and no declaration of compensation.
- There is no formal structure. An unpaid internship must give an educational standard that tracks what you might be expected to learn in a class.
- The work you are doing is actually taking the place of what a full-time employee might be expected to do, but you are doing it for free.
- There is no scheduled feedback, and supervision is rare.
- There is no rotational nature to the work, as would be expected in an on-the-job training experience.
- The program has no clear beginning and end. An internship should track the periods of education, such as a semester or 10-week period.
- Finally, there is no value added to the intern, as perceived by an outsider looking in.
Don’t let the employer feign ignorance; the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was signed into law in 1938 — which leaves plenty of time for a company to get onboard and treat interns humanely. There are a great number of large and medium-sized enterprises that offer quality paid and unpaid internships, complete with travel and relocation stipends if applicable. The key to getting them is to do well in college, do something interesting, research the internship market, and go for it! Do not sell yourself short. The dividends that a good career start will pay out to you over the life of your career are immense.
Dishonorable Mention: The Jetsetter
One type of employer that deserves a mention, especially in a city such as Miami, in which wealth leaves just as fast as it comes, if not faster, is the Jetsetter. The Jetsetter made its money in some other business (real estate, for example), and plowed that money into a company that bleeds cash. Why does this employer lose funds so quickly? The answer lies in the owners’ own spending habits; they habitually treat themselves to fancy dinners, vacations, and gifts on the company’s dime. They live beyond their means, but bootstrap the hell out of the company. Even as they fail to pay their own workers, they continue to rack up expenses that are not defensible when the IRS comes knocking.
To identify the Jetsetter fairly easily, follow the social media exploits of the founders and the founders’ families, and compare that to the constraints in which the company itself is forced to operate, which may actually be involved in more fraudulent activity than using company funds for extravagant lifestyles. The number of companies in South Florida who owe their employees payroll cash is astounding, and quite sickening – it speaks to the lack of discipline amongst founders and cavalier nature of South Florida business that has come to cast a shadow over the region; stifling investment. In 2018, the Jetsetter has to go.